Today marks 1 month since Heaven gained the most amazing angel of all – my Hayden.
I have been dreading writing this update for many reasons. The obvious is that I never thought I would write a blog update or any other document from the perspective of a widow. But the main reason I have been dreading writing this is that I have put pressure on myself to write something that will accurately and willingly serve as the final post from my husband — a greatness that you simply cannot put into words. How do I describe a man who touched so many people with his words, appearance (admit it, ladies), story, and smile? How do you talk about a man who captured every characteristic I look for in a partner? Will anyone ever be able to understand how special the past two years have been? How do you tell someone what the last days of his life were like? Will they understand when you tell them that as horrifying and scary they were, they were also miraculous and precious? I will try.
Hayden and I met. At a bar. Through my friend, Leigh Anne. Some would say our meeting was not one that you would read about in fairytales — we were partying, having fun, both not looking for anything serious at the moment. I even recall a first date to the Motley Crue Concert and Pink Pony. I tell you this as, to me, this WAS a fairy tale. Who actually meets someone in a bar and it actually works out for them?!? ME.
Truthfully (and Hayden will love that I am saying this), Hayden was the quintessential “Hunk”. On paper, he was a football player, he was good looking, tall, muscular, had a great smile – and could make anyone in a room laugh, without even trying. He was the life of the party. Those that know him well know that he was down-to-earth, honest, caring, and treated everyone equal. He could capture the attention and respect of a room of immigrant laborers the same as he could a room of multi-millionaire investors. And he treated everyone the same – with the utmost respect and concern for their well-being. He was the best. He was my favorite.
One night – a few drinks in at the “Hole in the Wall” bar – Hayden grabbed my hand, took my ring that was on my right hand, and put it on my left ring finger. He then dragged me over to Parker and said “Hey, Park! Tell mom I’ve met my wife!” Being that we had only hung out a few times, and even less times that we could remember, I thought he was trying to be smooth and make me actually think he was serious about me so I would go home with him.
Six years later, on November 6, 2010, we were married.
When Hayden was diagnosed on April 13, 2012, our world came crashing in. I remember the phone call like it was yesterday and was totally in disbelief that my husband, the non-smoker who eats well and works out everyday, that has no major history of cancer in his family – has stage 4 cancer. In his first journal entry he wrote:
“ Make it Count. There is no tomorrow, there is only today. Relax because the chemo will work and I will live to be a servant for God and his fight against cancer. You have to go through hell to get to heaven. Dig deep, Hayden, it’s your game to win. Love yourself and have confidence!”
This first realization began our two year journey which you all have followed. During this time we became new people and had a new relationship. Our perspective completely changed. We literally took things one day at a time. We were thankful for our love and for each other and nothing else mattered. We held hands more. We hugged more. We prayed every night together and read scripture. We talked about life. We talked about death. I knew Hayden was strong as an Ox, but I saw a weakness and vulnerability neither one knew he had. I was always weaker, but found an immense strength in me that we never knew I had. It was the worst two years of our life. It was the best two years of our life.
We found therapy in music and we would listen to it every night and every morning to get us ready for the day and night ahead. One of our favorites was Mumford & Sons and particularly their song “Timshel”
“Cold is the water It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance
But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand”
Hayden’s “Never Give Up” attitude did not surprise me at all. From his UFC training days with Forest, he was always a fighter. He won every fight he ever started and finished every fight he did not start. His strength , both physically and mentally, was immeasurable. I knew that this fight would not cease until he was ready.
In the days before Hayden’s passing, I was able to witness some of the most beautiful and miraculous acts of courage, selflessness, and divinity that I had ever witnessed. At the beginning of April Hayden was still in full-fighting mode. We had been in the hospital for weeks trying to determine what other treatments were out there that we had not tried. We were closely monitoring his labs several times a day as his liver levels had reached highs that doctors had not seen before – yet he was still able to function fairly well. We had a lot of difficult conversations and cried a lot as we knew deep down that things were starting to become critical.
After meeting with our doctor on Friday April 4th, Hayden made the conscious decision to go home. From this point forward, I saw a peace in Hayden that I had never seen. I will never forget when he and Parker called me in the room and Hayden shared with me that he was ready to go home. He sat up in his bed, which he had not done in weeks. He was very matter-of-fact and in control. His voice had strength. He said he wanted to see his son, see his dogs, and spend time in his home with his friends and family- particularly his mother. Though I was in disbelief and felt a tremendous amount of fear and sorrow, I could see in his eyes that he had made up his mind and he was ok. He just needed to hear that I was going to be ok. Though I could feel myself crumbling inside, I looked at him and said “It’s Ok. You are going to be fine. And I will be okay too. “
From that moment on, Hayden did not shed a tear. I, of course, could not stop crying. I will never forget that as we wheeled Hayden into the ambulance for our final journey home from the hospital, he looked at me and said “Stop crying, p&@($y. I should be the one crying! “. Classic. He had been taking Dilaudid and Morphine every 3 hours on-the-dot for 2 months straight. From this point on, Hayden did not need one ounce of pain medication. It was truly miraculous.
During the rest of our time at home Hayden was in and out of consciousness. Sometimes he would make sense in his words and sometimes his words were not logical — but if you listened carefully you would know that every word he spoke had meaning. I wrote down every word. He was very concerned for my and Thomas’s future and that we would be okay. He was very concerned about Parker and how he would go on. He was so selfless and even questioned if he should be at home as he did not want me to have bad memories of our home after he passed. I assured him I would be fine and wanted him to be comfortable. He talked about what he needed to leave this world peacefully. He whispered of saints, eternal life and beautiful things. He cracked jokes (as usual). In fact, on that last day Hayden was conscious, he said it was not his time yet, but he needed to music to pump him up for his final days. At his request, Hayden and I sat in our living room and listened to ZZTop’s “Just Got Paid Today” and Guns n’ Roses’ “Paradise City”. You should have seen Brian’s (Hayden’s best friend’s) face when he walked inside to see us jamming out!
Hayden was unresponsive much of Sunday. Sunday evening was spent in our room surrounded by his family and our dogs. As I went to sleep that night, I knew this was going to be our last evening together in our house. I grabbed his hand, told him I loved him and goodbye, and fell asleep. A few hours later, I was awakened and heard Hayden mumbling. He was talking about needing to “find a shortcut” and find “someone Higher”. He then mumbled that in a few hours he would be “ready to ride”. I held him tight and fell back asleep. The next time I awoke, I felt his heart and he was gone.
To those who remember the morning of April 7, 2014, it was storming and I around 7:00am I heard a rumble of thunder like I had never heard before. It sounded exactly like a Harley Davidson peeling out of my driveway — a sound I had heard many times before. I smiled. He was on his ride.
These thoughts may come across to many as too personal and spiritual to share on a blog, but I tell you all these details for several reasons:
Number one is to assure you that Hayden is fine . I cannot go into detail about the amount of totally spiritual and divine things that happened in the days and weeks preceding his death, but I can assure you he is in Heaven and okay. Coming from two people who have not always been religious, it is a miracle to me that he was able to leave me with the final gift of assuring me of his destination. In this way I will never wonder if he is okay or where he is — I know he is there waiting for me.
Number two is to reiterate that Hayden did not give up or lose his fight. He was in control the whole time — up until the very last breath. He was able to decide when he was ready and when he would ultimately leave this world as we know it. He was able to tell me exactly what he needed to complete his journey. I believe he had a glimpse of eternity weeks before his death and then was content with his path. He chose his destiny and ultimately was victorious. In the 2 years we fought cancer, there was a quote from a coffee table book that McKenzie (Parker’s wife) had given us, that he read every night before we went to bed:
“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this – you haven’t.” – Thomas Edison.
We tried every possibility for Hayden and did not leave any stone unturned – something his family and I will never regret. However, in the end, there was one possibility left and that was the ultimate victory.
The third reason why I share all of this with you is that as stated in his first journal entry, he indeed became a servant of God’s miracle. His short life was stricken with tragedy and illness, yet he used these obstacles that were put in his life to change his life, to find faith, to fight hard, to live life and love and ultimately share his perseverance and fight with thousands of people. In the beginning, I was looking for God’s miracle to be a cure for Hayden. After a year of vigorous chemo and radiation, Hayden and I miraculously became pregnant, naturally, with the most perfect baby boy one could imagine. This was something that doctors said was impossible. It was then that I realized that God’s miracle may not lie in a cure for Hayden, but in this beautiful legacy and gift that Hayden was leaving me.
Of course I am devastated. I have lost my husband, my partner, my lover, my best friend, my half. I come home to an empty house with unfinished memories. I look at our child and wonder if I will ever be able to accurately portray how amazing his father was as he will have no memories of his own. I feel defeated and failed as I devoted my life to Hayden’s happiness and comfort – which in the end I had no control over. The hours of researching and caretaking are now filled with silence – something I thought I would welcome, but now feels empty. I have lost my future as I thought I knew it. But, I am comforted in knowing where he is and that we will meet again one day. I feel privileged and thankful that God brought this perfect man into my life and allowed me to share the most precious and miraculous journey with him. The last few weeks and days with my husband were precious and intimate – we laid together in silence not needing to talk, yet told each other everything we wanted to say. Though it was absolute hell, I would not trade it for the world – and I know Hayden would not either. “I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” ( Hayden would crack up knowing I threw a “Steel Magnolias” quote in there!) We did not have a lot of time together, but we loved deeper and fuller in those two years than most people do in a lifetime.
In closing this blog, there was one thing that Hayden shared with me time and time again. He was worried that his fight was “all for nothing”. He was worried that he fought courageously for 2 years, and that no one’s life was changed or he would be forgotten. I assured him this was not the case, and I know that he will continue to impact peoples’ lives for years to come. The day Hayden was diagnosed he printed out a quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger and posted it on our bathroom wall:
The Secrets to Success:
1) Trust Yourself.
2) Break the Rules.
3) Don’t be Afraid to Fail.
4) Ignore the Naysayers.
5) Work Like Hell.
6) Give Back.
So with that, I challenge you to change your life. Whether it be to do something that makes you happy, to better your marriage, to grow closer to your family, to find faith, to better yourself – remember that life is short and to Make. It. Count. Do not be afraid. Hayden faced the most fearful of times and was still able to remain positive and changed his life and others. I look forward to hearing correspondence in the future of how Hayden’s fight influenced your life (firstname.lastname@example.org). In Hayden fashion, I leave you not with words but a simple hand gesture, which he gave multiple times along the way.